The UK House of Lords.
UK Lords calls for better exit data and exclusion of students from targets

The UK requires more sophisticated information for counting international students in and out of the country, according to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, which also calls for the removal of international students from migration targets.

In a report on Brexit and the Labour Market, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee (EAC), says that the current approach cannot calculate how many students stay or leave.


Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, EAC Chairman, said, "The government must have reliable statistics on migration before it formulates new policy, otherwise it will be making crucial decisions - of vital importance to the country's businesses - in the dark."  


Focusing on the limitation of the International Passenger Survey (IPS) - used to calculate the net migration figure that the government aims to reduce to 'tens of thousands' - the authors said that less than one per cent of interviewees for the IPS, conducted at major airports and ports, are identified as immigrants or emigrants, a relatively small sample of between 4,000 and 5,000 per year.


The EAC quote a report from the Office for National Statistics, which collects the IPS data, from earlier this year, acknowledging that the data on those leaving the UK is poor.


The Lords report also makes reference to a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) last year, which highlighted published discrepancies between IPS estimates of the number of non-EU students that remain in the UK after completion of programmes and other sources, such as Home Office visa data, the annual population survey and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) Destination Survey.


IPPR analysis of the 2011 arrival cohort of non-EU students shows that IPS estimates of the number remaining five years later (130,000 to 150,000) were more than double the calculations from other sources.


The re-introduction of exit checks, including using Advanced Passenger Information from carriers, on those leaving the UK would provide an opportunity to count those leaving in a more systematic manner, the authors argue.


"We recommend that the government expedites measures to accurately assess the number of students who leave the UK at the end of their university education. To monitor the impact on local housing, the government should also ask universities to provide information on the accommodation provided to international students," the authors state.


"Once this information is available, students should not be included in any short-term net migration figures for public policy purposes."


In the wider report on the impact of Brexit on the UK's labour market, the EAC urges the government against setting migration targets in general, especially as several factors - including the number of UK nationals that leave the UK each year - are beyond the government's control.


The report also discusses recent calls for regional visa policy settings, including for London and Scotland. "We are persuaded there may be some merit in a regional immigration system for Scotland and London, but agree with most of our witnesses that this is beyond existing administrative capabilities."


The report quotes Philippe Legrain, a British economist, as saying, "It is madness, at a time when every country in the world is trying to increase its share of the booming global export market, to be clamping down on foreign students, not to mention the impact it has on the good will of Britain in countries such as India."


In March this year, the House of Lords agreed an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Act which would have had the effect of removing international students from migration figures, but the amendment was rejected by the government when the act returned to the House of Commons.


As Home Secretary and now Prime Minister, Theresa May has consistently maintained that non-EU students should continue to be included in migration statistics.



By Matthew Knott

News Editor